Having diabetes increases risks for some major health concerns. Here are some common diabetes complications and what you can do about them. 

The effects of diabetes vary greatly from one individual to another. Some people live a long life with minimal limitations and complications. Others, however, feel and see the less-than-pleasant effects of diabetes. Diabetes consists of over 20 different metabolic conditions so what works for one person managing the disease may not work for another. 

Diabetes Increases Risks of Additional Health Issues

Just having diabetes can significantly increase your risk of developing additional symptoms or conditions, including:

  • Cardiac problems - diabetes is one of the leading causes of heart attack and stroke [1]

  • Circulatory issues - neuropathy, skin changes, calluses and foot ulcers, sometimes leading to amputation [2]

  • Eye problems - along with retinopathy, diabetic macular edema (DME) glaucoma and cataracts, diabetes is one of the leading causes of blindness [3]

  • Kidney damage [4]

  • Digestive problems - acid reflux, gastroparesis, enteroneuropathy (nerve damage in your gut) and heartburn [5]

  • Fatigue - every heard of DFS? [6]

  • Mental health impact - Depression, anxiety, stress diabetes distress [7]

  • Sexual health issues - Some women may have irregular periods and have trouble getting pregnant, and a high percentage of men experience erectile dysfunction; both may experience decreased libido, hormone imbalances and other sexual health concerns [8]

  • Long-term cognitive decline - research has linked diabetes with Alzheimer's Disease and dementia in new ways [9] 

The long-term health implications of diabetes vary greatly depending on individual diabetes management. That's why it's important for each person to have their own management program, individually tailored for them by competent medical professionals. 

What to Do About Diabetes Complications

Don't assume that just because you have diabetes that you will inevitably experience all of these common diabetes complications. While a lack of appropriate management can result in complications and lower quality of life, there are actions you can take to improve, delay or even prevent diabetes complications. 

  • Monitor your blood sugar - one of the most basic and important aspects of diabetes management. Learn to use the numbers on your meter to make key adjustments day to day. 

  • Mindful eating - diabetes doesn’t mean you can never enjoy food again. On the contrary, find ways to improve the quality of your food. Make sure you are getting essential nutrients and decreasing added sugars and unnecessary carbohydrates wherever you can. 

  • Exercise - you don’t have to hit the gym or dedicate hours per day to exercise if it isn’t practical for you, or if you deal with additional health barriers. But try to find ways to increase movement and see how far you can go with it.

  • Care for your mental health - whether or not your diabetes doctor spends time on the mental health struggles that come with diabetes, there are ways to address them. If you find your mental health needs are not being met, seek out a psychologist or therapist who can help you work through barriers. Find a diabetes community, online or in your local area, and see what a difference it can make to discuss diabetes with others who understand you even better than your doctors can!

These steps are commonly heard and sometimes brushed off because they aren’t always easy. But, knowing the risks can sometimes help us recommit or find motivation. 


[1] American Heart Association (2015, Aug 30). Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes. Retrieved from  https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/diabetes/why-diabetes-matters/cardiovascular-disease--diabetes

[2] American Diabetes Association (2013, Jun 6). Foot Complications. Retrieved from  http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/foot-complications/

[3] Prevent Blindness. Diabetes and Your Eyes. Retrieved from  https://www.preventblindness.org/diabetes-and-your-eyes

[4] The National Kidney Foundation (2015). Diabetes - A Major Risk Factor for Kidney Disease. Retrieved from  https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/diabetes

[5] Bucklin, S. (2017, Oct 10). How Does Diabetes Affect the Digestive System? Retrieved from  https://www.everydayhealth.com/type-2-diabetes/symptoms/how-does-diabetes-affect-digestive-system/

[6] Kalra, S. and Sahay, R. (2018, Jun 4). Diabetes Fatigue Syndrome. Retrieved from  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6064586/

[7] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018, Aug 6). Diabetes & Mental health. Retrieved from  https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/mental-health.html

[8] Neithercott, T. (2012, Nov). Sex and Diabetes: What You Wanted to Know. Retrieved from  http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2012/nov/sex-and-diabetes-what-you-wanted-to-know.html

[9] Mayo Clinic (2016, Mar 23). Diabetes and Alzheimer's Linked. Retrieved from  https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/in-depth/diabetes-and-alzheimers/art-20046987

Originally published: Jan 27, 2018

Last Updated: Dec 11, 2018

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